In the first two Friday sessions, we explored how the awareness of breath and gratitude practices allow us to develop inner calm and clarity. We also used these practices to help us move from a mindset of scarcity to that of growth. You can use these mindfulness techniques at any time throughout your day when you’re feeling stressed – simply bring your attention back to your breath, think about something you are grateful for, and feel that sense of appreciation in your body.
In this third session, we practiced the body scan and discussed how this simple exercise can help us slow down, release stress, and listen to what our bodies might be telling us. We also talked about the power of the body scan to enhance sleep and physical fitness. In this blog post, I’ll briefly elaborate on the benefits of the body scan and then share some links to audio guided body scans. If you missed this past week’s live stream, you can find the video at the bottom of this page. The guided body scan starts at 7:30.
Releasing Tension: When we’re experiencing chronic stress, as so many of us are during this pandemic, our bodies tend to tighten up and hold onto this stress. This tension in our bodies can not only lead to muscular imbalances and further pain, but it also perpetuates the feeling of stress in our minds. Over time, chronic stress, as many of us know, can cause or exacerbate other serious health issues. The body scan is an effective tool to help you release this stress. By systematically bringing attention to the different parts of your body, you are able to soften this tension, in addition to seeing what your body needs in this moment. For example, I hadn’t noticed how tight my shoulders had gotten from all the computer work I’d been doing. After practicing the body scan, I finally saw this issue and started incorporating more stretches throughout my day.
The Body Provides Information About The Mind: At a deeper level, the body scan helps us develop a closer mind-body connection in our everyday lives. The different body sensations that we notice are often associated with unmet needs outside of our bodies. For example, I was noticing a subtle tension developing in the back of my head that wouldn’t go away regardless of what I did. It felt like a clenched fist that just wouldn’t release. As I turned inward and stayed with this sensation, I started to see how it was tied to my procrastination on a certain project. When I finally began working on this project, the tension began dissipating and I felt a release.
Taking Time For Self-Care: If you’re feeling stressed, especially during this time, try out a daily body scan practice and see if it makes a difference. Though you may feel that you could be using this time to work on other more important things, remember that the stress release you get from even a 10 minute practice can help you be more effective in completing your to-do list. And if 10 minutes is too long, try taking three mindful breaths anytime during your day, and then quickly check in with your body to see if you can release any tension.
We can think of our brains as having two sides: the thinking side, which analyzes, judges, and strategizes, and the sensing side, which feels, observes, and takes in the world around us without judgment or reactivity. When we’re trying to fall asleep at night, tossing and turning, we often continue to think and worry. By bringing our attention to the sensing side of the brain, the body scan can help you shut off the thinking side, giving it a much needed break. Though our thinking brain frequently wants to take our attention away during this practice, we can keep returning to our sensory experience without judging ourselves for getting distracted. Our brains are wired to keep thinking, so getting distracted is perfectly normal. Over time, this process of redirecting our attention to our sensations not only helps us slow those anxious thoughts, reduce stress, and fall asleep, but it also allows us to regain control over our minds. Next time you’re having trouble falling asleep, try the body scan and see if you can maintain that gentle awareness of your own body sensations.
Would you believe me if I told you that you can get stronger just by thinking about it? Research has actually shown this to be true. In one study, subjects were asked to simply think about contracting their finger muscles without actually contracting them. Over 12 weeks, their contractile strength increased by 35%. They repeated this with the biceps muscle and found that strength increased by 13%. And this isn’t the only research study that supports the idea that attentional focus on muscles can build and preserve strength.
This attentional focus is a well-established phenomenon, and it makes sense. The more you consciously think about and feel your muscles working, the more your brain sends signals to those muscles to contract and work harder. Over time, this not only builds strength, but also develops the mind-muscle connection which helps increase coordination. The body scan allows you to practice this skill of noticing your body sensations and muscles, which is highly translatable to your workouts.
Next time you exercise, try paying closer attention to your muscles and movements and see how that feels. You may start noticing a difference in your performance over time. Even if you don’t, at least you’ll be enjoying your workouts with more presence of mind.
Body Scan Guided Meditations
1. Check out these free guided meditations on my website. There’s a 20 minute guided meditation on there, as well as other samples ranging from five to 20 minutes.
2. You can download the Insight Timer app for free and find my profile (I have multiple free recordings available on the app) or just search the app for body scans. There are a variety of options on this app, and it’s great for other types of guided meditations as well.
3. If you would like more of my guided meditations, you can check out my Teachable page. Here, you’ll find more guided meditations that vary in duration, level of guidance/instruction throughout the recording, and mindfulness skills being developed. You’ll get access to 19 different meditations, which you can download or access easily on your phone through the Teachable app, for $19.
What are some ways that you’re using or adapting the body scan to find calm and clarity?